The US Census Bureau, along with researchers from Harvard and Brown universities, tracked the economic trajectories of 20 million children beginning in the mid-1980s (aged mid-30s today). The result is the Opportunity Atlas, an interactive map that overlays multiple data points onto each of the 70,000 Census tracks in the country (a Census tract contains 4,200 people). Data tracked includes parental income level, race and gender along with incarceration rates.
The most interesting conclusions showed that while average neighborhood income is certainly a key indicator, neighborhoods with similar incomes, in close proximity, produced startlingly different outcomes for children. It’s here where I’ll say that while the data collected can be used by policymakers to influence spending and programs, there is no specific “eureka” that turns around the economic trajectories of a neighborhood’s children. Bethany Erickson already looked at this issue thoroughly, but there is more to be said about the numbers.
The major levers are neighborhood income (what I’ll call “hope”), two-parent households (familial stability), rates of incarceration (despair) and, of course, race and gender. What’s interesting is that easy conclusions can’t really be made. There’s a “secret sauce” at work.